Sustainability Bites

Pathways to circularity for styrenics

We break down the science of styrenics recycling to show you that styrenics is designed for recycling and offers unequalled recycling performance due to its compatibility with different recycling technologies.


Pathway to circularity: designed for recycling 
A common misconception — materials like glass, aluminium and paper are inherently more sustainable than plastics. On the contrary, styrenics have significant environmental and recyclability advantages and are often a more eco-friendly solution. For example, polystyrene’s materials strength and barrier properties allow it to be used as a single layer in applications. Alternatives often use multiple material layers that cannot be adequately separated during the recycling process. Furthermore, their lightweight properties reduce climate impact — polystyrene foam for example is around 98% air! Best of all, when their purpose has been fulfilled, they can be recycled. 

Our INEOS Styrolution ECO product line is created using recycled and bio-attributed materials and has a lower greenhouse gas footprint than materials made from fossil feedstock. We close the loop with waste prevention and recycling, allowing for the life cycle of this valuable material to be infinite. To be repurposed and reused, again, and again. 


Pathway to circularity: styrenics offer unequalled recycling performance
Styrenics are easily sortable in waste streams and are able to be recycled using both mechanical and advanced recycling technologies. Recycling technologies enable us to capture a broader spectrum of plastic waste, processing materials at higher contamination levels and, in some cases, eliminating the need for complex and expensive sorting steps, which are often cited as a reason for low recycling rates. To achieve high recycling rates and recycled-content targets, we must not rely on mechanical recycling alone. Mechanical and advanced recycling technologies are complementary. When a material cannot be adequately recycled using mechanical methods, then advanced recycling technologies should be introduced for material recovery. When recycled plastics are used to create new plastics, companies reduce their carbon footprint and produce environmentally conscious products — because plastic should be kept in the loop, not in the landfill. 


Pathway to circularity: Mechanical method = polymer-to-polymer
Mechanical recycling, sometimes referred to as ‘traditional recycling’, is the most widely known and used recycling technology. This technology plays an important role in a circular economy for plastics. Here, industrial or post-consumer waste is physically processed back into pellets, without changing the basic chemical structure of the material. With the inclusion of an additional ‘super-cleaning’ process combined with state-of-the-art sorting technology, mechanically recycled polystyrene can be used for food contact applications with exactly the same high quality and performance as the original product. 


Pathway to circularity: Dissolution = polymer-to-pure “cleaned” polymer
The dissolution method takes plastic waste in its solid form and dissolves it in a solvent. Once dissolved, the process can separate contaminants and additives, and separate the original polymer from the solvent. The end-product then becomes a cleaned polymer that may be used as new raw material plastic again.  


Pathway to circularity: Depolymerisation = polymer-to-monomers
Depolymerisation “unzips” the polymer chain, breaking it down into the individual molecules. This process separates and purifies polystyrene, and can be repeated on the same material an infinite number of times. This recycled material is safe for food contact and medical applications.


Pathway to circularity: Pyrolysis = polymer-to-feedstock
Pyrolysis uses a thermal cracking process to convert plastic waste to an oil, which is then further purified and used as feedstock in the production of base chemicals, for example, ethylene for polymer production. 


Pathway to circularity: Gasification = polymer-to-feedstock
Gasification works well with highly contaminated waste by enabling processing of mixed plastic waste alongside domestic and bio-waste. The technology heats materials to high temperatures without oxygen, which means no burning or incinerating, and creates syngas, used as a carbon source to produce base chemicals. 


We are working closely with plastic recycling technology partners to further increase global access to advanced recycling technologies. Our plan is to maximise the inherent potential of styrenics and ensure that this superstar material has a bright and circular future. 

Learn more about high-purity mechanical recycling of polystyrene

Learn more about advanced recycling of polystyrene


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